TRACKING THE ZAGS: This regular web series appears here as long as Gonzaga continues its season.
By Dale Goodwin
SPOKANE, Wash. – While most fans’ focus is on basketball right now, the Gonzaga players are not about to blow off books even as they approach their fifth straight appearance in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
“I try to get as much of my homework, quizzes and tests done before (our basketball weekends),” said redshirt freshman Shelby Cheslek, who earned a spot on the West Coast Conference All-Freshman team this year.
Cheslek, a 6-5 redshirt freshman center from Pullman, Wash., is a business administration major. She earned a spot on the Dean’s List both semesters of her freshman year.
“Almost all of my teachers have been very helpful and understanding,” Cheslek said. “If we are traveling and I am going to miss a quiz or test, I can work with my teachers and figure out a time to take it prior to leaving or have Rian (Oliver, basketball academic coordinator) give me the quiz/test on the road. It’s been great how willing they are to work with me.”
Communication Arts Associate Professor Tom Miller was impressed last month when he received an email from Cheslek, a student in his writing class, outlining what she had done, what her challenges might be, and the deadline she had given herself to get her assignment to her professor. “I received the email at 11:30 on a Thursday night while she and the team were in LA,” Miller said. “They aren’t shirking their academic responsibilities just because they’re athletes.”
For Cheslek, who has started most of this year and has made big contributions, especially later in this season, balances basketball, academics and music in her Gonzaga experience, although she is finding choir taking a backseat to the other two endeavors.
“As for academics and basketball, I would say they have both grown in importance for me since I’ve come to Gonzaga. In high school, I played volleyball, basketball and did track. I couldn’t put as much focus as I can now on basketball. With academics, classes have become harder and more important so it has grown in importance and attention, as well. I would say I put both of them at the same level of attention and importance.”
Cheslek grew up in the shadows of Washington State University. But she chose Gonzaga. “After I came on my first unofficial visit, I knew that Gonzaga was the school for me,” she said. “I loved that it was close to home and my friends and family could all come and watch my games. I also liked the size of Gonzaga. It’s a great community atmosphere and not so large that I feel like I never actually get to know my classmates. And of course, the fact that Gonzaga has an amazing basketball program was a large part in my decision, too.”
A typical day for Cheslek goes something like this: Monday-Wednesday-Friday she has class at 10 a.m., practice from noon-3 p.m., then class at 3:10. On Tuesday-Thursday, class begins at 8 a.m., another class at 9:25 a.m., practice from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., then class at 1:15 p.m. “I use my evenings for studying, tutoring and homework,” she said.
Now she turns her attention to her first NCAA tournament as a player.
“The key to me for being successful in the NCAA tournament is to just play how I’ve been playing and not let the fact that it’s the ‘tournament’ get to me,” she said. The Zags play in front of sold-out crowds throughout the season, so 6,000 partial fans in the Kennel on Gonzaga’s campus should not impact her nerves too much. She’s well balanced.
NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament
McCarthey Athletic Center (6,000), Spokane, WA
Saturday, March 23, 2013 – First round
1 p.m. – #12 Gonzaga (27-5) vs. #5 Iowa State (23-8)
3:30 p.m. – #4 Georgia (25-6) vs. #13 Montana (23-7)
Monday, March 25, 2013 – Second round
6:30 p.m. – Saturday’s winners
Visit the NCAA Tournament Zag Fan Central for everything you need to follow and cheer on our men’s & women’s basketball teams.